Queen City Chamber Opera preparing artists for the major leagues

Isaac Selya

Isaac Selya

Thursday, April 14, 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 17, 3 p.m. Mayerson JCC

For all the high-level training available to young artists in Cincinnati, the musician Isaac Selya noticed a gap in the stepladder toward a viable career – the entry-level job.

In 2012, Selya founded Queen City Chamber Opera to fill that gap. The company now produces two shows each season, making a home in Price Hill at the Arts Center at Dunham. For its spring production, Queen City Chamber Opera is taking a field trip of sorts, partnering with the Mayerson JCC to stage Handel’s oratorio “Israel in Egypt,” typically performed on the concert stage.

“New artists need to create a professional track record, and that’s why we’re here,” Selya said. A cellist, pianist and conductor, Selya saw opera as the medium with the widest potential for drawing a variety of artists – vocalists, pit musicians, poets and librettists, stage directors and set designers.

Selya, who will conduct “Israel in Egypt,” moved back to Cincinnati to work toward a doctorate at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Opera is one of the more expensive art forms to produce, but Selya had early success with a Kickstarter campaign and received donated legal help to establish the company’s nonprofit status. The company also has attracted grants from local and national foundations.

This production of “Israel in Egypt” is part of the JCC’s “Exodus in Music and Art.” The performance features a 16-voice choir and 30-piece orchestra, along with a slideshow by Lizzy DuQuette of images inspired by the music, and an accompanying art installation by Deborah Brod.

“As a musician and as a Jew, this piece was always interesting to me,” said Selya, who grew up around other Jews in Amberley Village. “I’d always listen to this around Passover – it’s almost a companion piece to ‘Messiah’– and when I moved back here, it was always on my radar.”

Queen City Chamber Opera largely draws young artists, Selya said, but also more seasoned people who hold full-time jobs inside and outside the arts and see the company as a professional-level outlet producing high-quality work. A number of company alumni, he said, have parlayed their experiences with QCCO into work elsewhere.

“Rather than the minor leagues, it’s more like a farm team – a place to stop where scouts discover you before getting to the big leagues,” Selya said. “It’s way more cutthroat to become a professional now because the competition is so fierce,“ he said. “Even though we’ve taken a lot of people who are relatively untested, we’re getting people who are ready, but it’s just that the jobs aren’t available.”

For his own part, before he reaches the podium for the “Israel in Egypt” performances, Selya will pay his own dues – setting up chairs, sweeping floors and writing contracts. “When the time comes to pick up the baton, everyone’s happy and can focus on the art,” he said.


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